You hear it on radio, you read it in national and local news, you have to listen to it on a regularly from fellow fans and couch-analysts alike – the Cowboys are going 8-8 or less.
The reason offered? The Cowboys organization did nothing to improve what was a horrendous defense in 2013; many further suggesting that the defense may in fact be worse as a result of losing DeMarcus Ware, Jason Hatcher and Sean Lee, the best players on the 2013 defense.
Certainly, there is some truth to that. The Cowboys defense was terrible last year and despite statistical proof suggesting we should see improvement, I understand things can always be worse. But this year is a new year and the Cowboys, contrary to popular belief, actually made several moves in the offseason to remedy their many leaks on the defensive side of the ball.
It's safe to say the Cowboys didn’t sit on their hands during the offseason.
A concerted effort was made to address the issues of last year, with a predominant focus on correcting their depth issues. Considering that there are only so many moves a team can make in Free Agency/Draft, especially whilst the Cowboys have had to contend with a limited cap, I'd say the Cowboys made quite a few changes on the defensive side of the ball.
Perhaps the real question is the quality of those moves – unfortunately, we will have to wait for the season to unfold to bring out a measuring stick. But at this point, I'm counting on six of the above sixteen players to be significant contributors. Could be more or less, depending on injuries and surprise contributors.
The other aspect of potential improvement this defense experienced to consider is that the Cowboys are in their second year in the attacking 4-3.
By merit of being more comfortable in the new scheme, several returning players should show some type of improvement from last year. Players such as Morris Claiborne, Bruce Carter, J.J. Wilcox, Kyle Wilber, DeVonte Holloman, Orie Lemon, among a few others, are entering the put-up or shut-up phase of their careers. Clearly some will answer in the negative, if not yield the same results of 2013; that is the nature of this sport. But serious odds would be defied if all of them ended up being blank rounds in Marinelli’s revolver.
The last thing that tends to get ignored in the “Cowboys defense is terrible” conversation/debate is that the Cowboys offense doesn’t need as much help as the average NFL offense.
This Cowboys offense will be good to great…with the only caveat being if Tony Romo can stay healthy. It is not outside the realm of possibility for the Cowboys to average above and beyond 28 points per game; in fact, considering they averaged 27.4 in 2013, I would take the over on that easily…possibly higher depending on the stakes.
So while this defense may not be the shutdown/shutout defense that places teams on contender-watch, that's not exactly necessary for the Cowboys to finally post a winning record after three years and make the playoffs. The Cowboys are absolute contenders within their division, and should be considered by their divisional foes as the team to beat, having posted a 5-6 record in 2013.
Consider the Cowboys 2014 regular season schedule and the offensive/defensive rank each team posted in 2013.
Teams (overall offensive rank / overall defensive rank in 2013):
|49ers (24th / 5th)
Titans (22nd / 14th)
Rams (30th / 15th)
Saints (4th / 4th)
Texans (11th / 7th)
Seahawks (18th / 1st)
Giants (28th / 8th)
Redskins (9th / 18th)
|Cardinals (12th / 6th)
Jaguars (31st / 27th)
Giants (28th / 8th)
Eagles (2nd / 29th)
Bears (8th / 30th)
Eagles (2nd / 29th)
Colts (15th / 20th)
Redskins (9th / 18th)
*Cowboys (16th / 32nd)
Granted, not too many conclusions can be drawn from the above – too many inconsistent variables occur over the course of a season, notwithstanding the fact that each of these teams played a different schedule and played the same teams at different times and different strengths. Furthermore, many of these teams evolved over the offseason and very well could show vast improvement on one or both sides of the ball. By that same logic, many of these teams could also show regression as a result of injury, key contributors lost in the offseason, career slumps or a combination of the three.
However, one argument to be made is that teams that are stronger on the defensive side of the ball and not so much on the offensive side, such as the 49ers, Seahawks, and Giants, will at the very least be a good game for the Cowboys…not necessarily a win, mind you, but you can count on them being close.
The opposition that transversely shows to be a strength on offense and not on defense such as the Bears, Eagles and Redskins, are the games that very well could be decided by who has the ball last in a shootout. Once again, likely still a relatively close game.
The teams the Cowboys really have to be concerned about are teams who prove to be a strong on both sides of the ball like the Saints, Cardinals and (believe it or not) the Texans. Finally, the teams that prove to be neither a strength on offense or defense, the Cowboys should be able to win, such as the Jaguars, Titans and Rams. The only wild card team left is the Colts, who were pretty mediocre on both sides of the ball, which gives them an edge over the Cowboys…for now.
The point is, in games that are close and somewhat evenly matched, it could go either way for the Cowboys. It very well may come down to the head coach with the best in-game management. Clearly Garrett has struggled in this area in the past, however, with the addition of Scott Linehan taking the reins of the offense, in-game management is an area that I am expecting improvement in.
Last year, there were three games in which game management was the deciding factor that led to losses for a Cowboys team that held a lead in the 3rd quarter against the Chargers, Lions, and Packers. The Cowboys win any one of those games, and week 17 would not have mattered; the Cowboys would have gone to the playoffs. Improvement in that area alone, regardless of what was done on either side of the ball throughout the offseason, could be the difference in whether or not the Cowboys finally post a winning record after three years of mediocrity.
To be honest, with the unknown quantities and question marks that literally arise at every position across the defense, it’s difficult for me to confidently predict anything higher than 9-7. But as I argued in a previous contribution, there is a difference between having questions and knowing the defense has not improved.
We are in the zero hour of this season. Expectations should remain tempered. But a losing season is far from being a foregone conclusion.
The Dallas Cowboys WR Position Battle is Heating Up
Earning a spot on the Dallas Cowboys final 53-man roster is going to be a lot tougher in 2018 then it has been in years past. There is no shortage of position battles taking place right now to earn one of those coveted openings, but it's the battle taking place at receiver that's gaining steam and starting to heat up.
The ultimate unknown right now is how many wide receivers the Dallas Cowboys choose to carry on their 53-man roster this season. Last year they decided to carry six, but they have been known to carry just five. Unfortunately, this means they will have to release some talented players and risk losing them to another team.
As things stand right now there may just be one, possibly two, roster spots up for grabs. I think the only thing we know for sure right now is Cole Beasley, Allen Hurns, Michael Gallup, and Tavon Austin are the only WRs who can feel secure their jobs are safe for 2018. Everybody else is playing a game of Survivor, just hoping their name isn't the one written down and their torch isn't snuffed out.
Terrance Williams' flame may be safe due to his current contract. The Dallas Cowboys can't save anything by releasing him, but it doesn't cost them that much either. It's unlikely he has a future with the team, so if someone were to prove themselves more worthy, his flame could be extinguished.
Last season I thought Noah Brown was ready to unseat Williams, but that never really materialized. Unfortunately, Brown hasn't really shown up as much as I thought he would this offseason, and missing the game against the San Francisco 49ers last week didn't do him any favors either. This doesn't bode well for him moving forward.
Deonte Thompson was signed as a free agent to provide some veteran experience and speed to the passing game, but that in no way means his job is secure. He needs to do something to show up a little more because his age and salary means a younger up-and-coming WR could make him expendable.
Second-year WR Lance Lenoir Jr. might just be the receiver who has stirred things up the most. He has not only created a buzz for himself in offseason practices, but he was able to carry it over into the preseason last week against the 49ers. His arrow trajectory is definitely pointing upwards.
I'd definitely hate to be the one to decide who stays and who goes when final cuts are made. It's not going to be an easy decision to make, because the outcome will definitely have an impact on the team's success this year.
All of these players were brought into help Quarterback Dak Prescott and the passing game reach new heights, so making the wrong move could be detrimental. The number of wide receivers and who the Dallas Cowboys decide to keep might be the most important decision they make before the season starts.
How would you predict the Dallas Cowboys WR position battle turning out?
Any Concern About Dan Bailey Not Playing Against 49ers?
With all the excitement of the Dallas Cowboys finally playing in a game last week against the San Francisco 49ers, it may have escaped your attention that Dan Bailey remained on the sideline the entire time. He didn't attempt one field goal or kick off once last Thursday, which in my opinion is a little concerning.
Dan Bailey joined Ezekiel Elliott and Sean Lee on the sideline as a healthy scratch last week. The decision to sit both Zeke and Sean Lee makes sense due to the physical demands of their positions, but sitting Bailey was a bit of a head scratcher. After all, it's not like he plays a physically demanding position like the other two.
I know. I know. Dan Bailey is an integral part for the Cowboys success moving forward. I'm not arguing that he's not, but after sitting out the majority of the 2017 season with a groin injury and lingering concerns about his health this year, not playing him at all against the 49ers is a bit confusing.
I don't believe there is any kind of kicking competition between Dan Bailey and Brett Maher, who handled all of the kicking duties against the 49ers last Thursday. Bailey will be the Cowboys kicker when the 2018 season gets underway in just a few short weeks. But, the question remains… Why didn't he receive any playing time?
Dan Bailey was never quite the same last season once he returned from his injury. Something was off and I don't know if it was more mental or physical, maybe a little of both. He just wasn't splitting the uprights like his normal self.
Unfortunately, we have seen this kind of thing happen in the past with one of the Cowboys kickers. Nick Folk went through a similar situation with an injury and never really bounced back. I'm just hoping history doesn't repeat itself.
Obviously, the Dallas Cowboys know more about what's going on with Dan Bailey than I do. But, you would think they'd have allowed him to attempt a field goal or at least an extra point in a game situation to build up his confidence once again. It's what I would have done.
Hopefully I'm just being a little paranoid and I'm reading more into this than there actually is. But, the fact I haven't heard any reasoning as to why Dan Bailey was held out last week is sitting a little uneasy with me. I'm just hoping it was precautionary in order to keep him as healthy as possible for the upcoming season.
Should we be concerned Dan Bailey was a healthy scratch last week?
Week 1 NFC East Predictions and Cowboys Season Outlook
Let me start this article with a strong opening statement: The Cowboys will be better in 2018 than they were in 2017. There's been a lot of talk about the lack of a true No. 1 receiver. But when we break it down, the current setup will most likely play out better for Cowboys QB Dak Prescott.
The Dak Stats
Certain quarterbacks shine when they have that go-to playmaker. We're talking about guys like Randy Moss, Terrell Owens, Calvin Johnson, Ocho Cinco, Tim Brown, Jerry Rice, and Dez Bryant. But other QBs do better at reading the defense and quickly adapting to what is given. Dak Prescott is the latter breed of QB.
Let’s do a quick numbers exercise to prove this.
When Prescott is targeting 8 or more receivers throughout the game, his passer rating jumps from 86.1 (targeting less than 8) to 104.5. He passes for almost 50 yards more per game and his touchdown to interception ratio drastically improves from 21-13 to 24-4.
Most importantly, when he targets at least 8 different receivers, the Cowboys are 14-2. When he targets less than 8, the team is just .500 at 8-8.
Without a doubt, Prescott is much better at adjusting to what the defense is giving him. He just isn’t one of those guys who can successfully "force" the ball (like Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees). Not feeling the pressure of having to get the ball into the hands of the star playmaker will give this offense a new kind of depth in 2018.
Yes, losing Jason Witten hurts, much more so in my opinion than not having Dez.
Questions Still Loom
This is still the Cowboys' biggest concern on offense. There is some great depth. We have Rico Gathers, Blake Jarwin, Geoff Swaim, and the young stud out of Stanford, Dalton Schultz. But between the three who have any NFL experience, there are only 9 catches between them. I must say that Dalton, with his 4.75 40-yard dash, has a legitimate shot at seeing a lot of playing time in his rookie campaign and could become an impact player with his size (6’5”, 244-lbs) and speed.
But despite the battle for TE being wide open, and debates about whether or not the team needs a No. 1 receiver, the Cowboys are still expected to give the Eagles a run for their money in the NFC East. Here are the odds on the defending NFC East champions and how (although early) it is expected to shake out:
- Philadelphia Eagles -167
- Dallas Cowboys +350
- New York Giants +650
- Washington Redskins +750
NFC East Week 1 Predictions
The Cowboys open the season in a difficult road game against the Carolina Panthers. The Panthers have been listed as 2.5-point favorites (follow the Cowboys NFL Odds here all season long) which isn’t surprising considering they are a tough team playing at home. You might be thinking, "crap, we're opening up as underdogs?" Don’t worry too much; it actually bodes fairly well because the lines-makers generally give a 3-point advantage to the home team. This means that they actually handicap the Cowboys to be a half-point favorite on a neutral field and a 3.5-point favorite in Arlington.
The Redskins open their season in Arizona against the Cardinals. The line is set at a pick ‘em (meaning there is no point spread; it's anyone's game). But, looking at the 'Skins and Cardinals, I think Washington gets disappointed in Week 1 and starts their season with a loss.
The Giants get to test their new offensive line and see if they were right in continuing to place their faith in Eli Manning against the best defense in the league. The Jags are 3-point favorites at MetLife stadium. This means the Jags are actually 6-points better. I do think that the Giants will be vastly improved this season, but they are also going to open with a loss.
The Eagles don’t have it easy either, but they will probably pull out the win at home as 4-point favorites against the Dirty Birds on Thursday Night Football. Their defense is just too good. Atlanta's road offense scored just 21 points per game last year while Philly scores 28 on average at home. The Eagles' home defense has been downright nasty, only allowing 12 points per game in Philadelphia.
This will be a two-horse race for the division between the Eagles and Cowboys. And even if the Eagles win the East, the Cowboys will wildcard into the playoffs.
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